North Carolina Cancer Patient Shot by Police: Victim of War on Medical Marijuana, Activists Say.


Medical marijuana advocates in Texas lament the fate of a cancer patient turned federal fugitive who was shot and killed during a drug raid last week at his North Raleigh home.

Stephen Scott Thornton, 45, of 5401 Alpine Drive died Friday afternoon from wounds received as sheriff's deputies and Wake County Alcohol Beverage Control officers forced their way into his home that morning to search for evidence of marijuana plants.

On the Web site of Texans for Medical Marijuana, a grass-roots organization that lobbied for legalizing the drug for pain management, Thornton in 2006 described himself as a thyroid cancer survivor who used marijuana to control chronic pain, eliminate nausea and gain weight.

A Wake County sheriff's deputy, Sgt. Ronnie Byrd, was shot in the leg during the raid. Byrd was treated at WakeMed and released.

The State Bureau of Investigation is investigating the incident, standard procedure when a law officer shoots someone. No ABC officer or Wake deputy has been placed on administrative leave as a result of the shootings. ABC Chief Lew Nuckles declined to comment Tuesday.

"It's being investigated by the SBI, and we don't want to hinder their investigation," Nuckles said.

When sheriff's deputies and ABC officers entered Thornton's home, they found evidence of a full-scale marijuana-growing operation, including 43 marijuana plants in various stages of growth, soil additives, lights and plant-growing chemicals, according to a search warrant made public Monday.

Thornton was wanted by the U.S. Marshals Service. He fled Texas in late 2005, before he was to be sentenced by a federal judge for possession of a firearm by an unlawful user of a controlled substance and for distributing marijuana and marijuana plants.

Texans for Medical Marijuana disbanded in May after two bills the group supported to legalize the medical use of marijuana stalled in the state legislature. Its former executive director, Noelle Davis, did not know Thornton but said that he was likely living with a lot of shame because he had to use an illegal substance for relief from his illness and that his fear of prison was probably compounded by the prospect of receiving inadequate medical treatment.

"It could have been a death sentence for him," said Davis, who now works as a consultant for the Marijuana Policy Project, the largest marijuana policy reform organization in the United States.

A Republican activist and medical marijuana advocate, Ann Lee of Houston, called Thornton a casualty of a failed war on drugs.

"They took a life because of it," said Lee, whose paraplegic son is a medical marijuana user. "Why have they spent $30 billion and not achieved a single goal?"

Davis said Texans for Medical Marijuana did not endorse the distribution of marijuana, but the organization did acknowledge the practice.

"We have to understand why people go to those extremes," she said. "When your quality of life is on the line, you are going to take a risk."

Thomasi McDonald

January 9, 2008

The News & Observer

No comments: